Seeing the wood for the Trees


sells wood

Natural England chair designate Andrew Sell’s wood

I’ve written a fair bit over the past 3 years about Think Tanks. Are they a force for good?

Most Think Tanks are on the right of the political spectrum – in fact practically all of them are. Many are euro sceptic and some verge on the libertarian. They are paid for by secretive individuals and organisations and that means they can be fronts for corporate interests. These fronts can be highly effective, especially when the media fail to recognise them as fronts – take the simmering row between George Monbiot and the BBC, over the IEA, who he claims is acting as a front for the Tobacco Industry that funds it.

Think Tanks do some research, come up with a new policy idea, then advocate it as hard as possible through the channels of influence they already occupy – often through the rather shady networks of parliamentary researchers, special advisors, commentators and politicians. They can be extremely effective.

Matthew Elliott could be seen as Think Tanker in chief – he set up the Tax Payers Alliance + Big Brother Watch and has taken a sabbatical from TPA to run Business for Britain, another eurosceptic outfit. Elliott recently celebrated the influence of the tiny area of the Westminster Village where the wonks hang out. he also celebrated the number of Think tankers who have moved seamlessly from think tank to ministerial special advisor (SPAD) to politician to minister. Nick Herbert and Nick Boles both rose from Think Tank roles to ministerial positions, via safe Tory seats.

He finished his article thus “2014 is likely to be a defining year for British politics and think-tanks and campaign groups will all be lobbying hard to influence the parties’ manifestos. Everyone who wants to see a creative, innovative and provocative political debate over the next eighteen months should welcome the fact that, whilst politics inside the Houses of Parliament can often feel stale, in Britain we are lucky to have a thriving think-tank scene.”

Does anyone else find this deeply alarming? The thriving think tank scene of which Elliott talks is unelected, funded by secretive organisations, often with corporate interests hiding behind astroturf. How is Britain lucky to have this lot creating policy for Government to impose on us?

Even more amazingly, many are also charities – now charities are very restricted in the political activity they can carry out. The Policy Exchange is a charity  – this is the one Tory donor Andrew Sells is just resigning from as Treasurer.Who Funds You gave Policy Exchange a D (the worst is E – Tax Payers Alliance and the Adam Smith Institute got an E) for transparency, because they give no information about who funds them. Powerbase identify individuals and corporations in the City as providing PE with much of its funding. And one only has to look at its list of Directors to see in which part of the political spectrum it sits.

If Policy Exchange is just another charity, like the RHS, and is studious to avoid accusations of political partisanship – why would Andrew Sells feel the need to resign from its board?

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in Andrew Sells, Charities campaigning, George Monbiot, neoliberalism, Policy Exchange, Think Tanks and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Seeing the wood for the Trees

  1. It is good to see conservationists joining a battle against think tanks who are nothing short of the most malignant element in policy making ever. Their over simplification of the complexity and diversity of our landscapes has led to the disenfranchisement of practitioners, the deliberate disconnection with people and communities and the ignoring of academic and scientific research. The forest sell off, NPPF and biodiversity offsetting were all born within think tanks – and yet they are rarely attacked even though they also provide the trolls who patrol the web and social media attacking anyone who has the minimal intelligence required to berate their daft, illconstrued nonsense.

  2. Pingback: A political blog: the unholy alliance between UKIP and the Marxist Libertarians | a new nature blog

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